Kim, a junior majoring in Economics, turns on the computer and logs into Sogang Cyber Campus to check her classes' announcements and assignments every day. Yesterday, she left a happy birthday message on the online community for her old friend whom she cannot meet often. It shows the typical lifestyle of a university student, which is full of various online communities.
Every student knows "what an online community is" and is using them for diverse purposes. "Compared to my old undergraduate years, students in these days have more ways and opportunities to express their opinions," said Prof. Lee Min-ho (Dept. of Korean Language & Literature). These days, online communities have grown in terms of quality to let university students use them not only personally, but also officially. University students actively use online communities in order to achieve diverse goals in different sorts of groups. It is important to consider today's use of online communities and pursue even better ways of using them.
How has the online community developed?
The online community first appeared when Korea introduced the first type of internet, KETEL. At that time, it took a long time and a lot of efforts to log into the communication network. Also, Bulletin Board System (BBS) was too basic to share people's information actively. Therefore, limited users used online communities only as means to develop the technological situations, computers, network systems, and programs. Getting into the 1990s, newly created PC networking companies encouraged an increase in the number of online communities, and made them more diverse. From the late 1990s, as ADSL was popularized in Korea, people gained access to virtual space more easily. From 2001 to today, what is called the settlement period has allowed people to feel more familiar and practiced. In this period, a variety of internet sites have offered their members for community service in order to improve functions-large capacity file upload and easy interactions through e-comments are representative. Through these kinds of online communities and the ones made by students themselves, university students are communicating more actively.
Each university has their special network on their online community
In university society, online community's use has been greatly expanded these days. In terms of each university, students run their own online community by themselves only for students of the university. They enable students to communicate about diverse matters from trivial worries, information about school life, career counseling to serious critiques of economic and political problems. In the case of Seoul National University (SNU), students are running an online community named "SNU Life." "I was able to get qualified information about using the school's facilities or lectures when I had just entered SNU as a freshman," said Lee Hyeon-jeong (07, Seoul National University). This kind of community allows students in the university to feel sense of belonging. "I think 'SNU Life' is a place of comfort for SNU students. Students in the same university have some problems in common. Due to this, students in SNU are able to counsel each other with more frankness. This makes 'SNU Life' a bond for SNU students," Lee added.
The advantage of online community is strengthened by offline communities. When offline community meets online community, students are able to feel more involved in the university society. Ewhaian, an online community composed by Ewha Womans University's students, is extended by linking with offline activities. They hold various types of parties and even tried publishing a magazine on their campus this year. On November 6th, Ewhaian held a "School Uniform Party." They started this party in 2002, and there were over 1,000 students this year. "Ewhaian's slogan is 'The bigger association in Ewha, Ewhaian.' We hope this kind of online community allows students in Ewha to overcome individualism and have warmer human relationship with each other. Varied kind of offline communities help them gather more tightly," said one of the sysops of Ewhaian, Lee Sang-hee (06, Ewha Womans University).
Online communities for specific goals
In each university, students gather for explicit purposes as smaller groups and run separate from the online communities with all students. "Cafe for new students who want to enter Sogang University" in Daum is one example. This online community was first created by Sogangers who were dissatisfied with Sogang University's image in the society. "We hope to offer the correct information about Sogang University to applicants, because some hooligans from other universities spread negative images and make applicants and people think those are typical images of Sogang University," said the sysop, Lee Kwon-bok (08, Sogang Business School). The online community was created for applicants who cannot afford to visit Sogang University directly or access correct information about Sogang University. "The members of these online communities are able to reveal private information about themselves due to the anonymity of using nicknames. Besides, online community enables both Sogangers and applicants save expenses and time," he added.
Sometimes, when students want to engage in or solve the school system's problem, online community can be one of the answers. Alt-Sogang was created by undergraduates who wanted to solve routine problems. Every semester, students are talking about what classes to take and which professor is appropriate for them on Sogang Sarangbang. In other words, students want to know information about classes and professors, but school authorities do not open up the results of lecture evaluations to students. In this case, online community would have powerful public voice and focuses, even though the people are only a small group who want to solve the problems in reality. "We pursue the slogan-For us and the others. It means that we construct a user-friendly system, and allow students to take part in this online community. This is the sound online ecosystem, I think, said Chae Hee-sang, the representative of Alt-Sogang (99, Dept. of Computer Science & Engineering).
Online communities based on existing offline groups in university society
Various independent groups in universities which started as offline communities also have their online communities in order to achieve more efficient communication. The Students' Association (SA) in Sogang University has its online community. Members of the association share their ideas and information for running the SA. "Online community enables us to deliver messages even faster. Also, we open our online community to general students who are not members of the association. They can suggest their ideas to us," said a member from SA in College of Communication, Lee Kwang-ho (08, College of Communication).
Online community also functions as a new communicational means for clubs. Mac-Bac, a club studying the culture of songs, is one of them. "It is much easier to share the music and information online. When some members could not attend the regular schedule, I posted important messages for them on the online community," said the president of Mac-Bac, Park Jae-sung (08, Dept. of Economics). He added that they are running online community and offline community simultaneously to complement each other.
Although there are many advantages of online community, several drawbacks may also exist. In the case of Korea, groupism sometimes works in the online communities. "When a group's will is given priority over an individual's one, personal will may be suppressed by the group's intention," said a culture critic Jung Duk-hyun. This means the "feeling of bond" is meaningful in active situations, but is risky in a passive situation. It is important to attend the online community and suggest your opinion, not failing to express oneself. On the point of communicational technology, online community is considered as a prospective method of communication. "With technological developments, people pursue the overcoming of obstacles to time and place. The internet lets us do that, and it seems natural for people to have developed more and more media like online community," said Prof. Lee Soo-young (College of Communication). With online communities, students can engage in university society and realize their specific aims more actively. Efforts to make full use of online community enable it to be another path to the society of university students.
By Ahn Jeong-bin firstname.lastname@example.org (Reporter of The S.H.)